American Silent Horror Collection (5 Discs) (R) product details page

American Silent Horror Collection (5 Discs) (R)

American Silent Horror Collection (5 Discs) (R)
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Not as celebrated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame or The Phantom of the Opera in the Lon Chaney canon, The Penalty is still a melodrama with plenty of action, hokey dramatic ironies, and, of course, a magnetic performance by its lead. To play the double amputee Blizzard, Chaney had his legs folded up behind him and strapped to his body; he proves amazingly agile getting around with a pair of cut-down crutches. The glowering Chaney mug is well used here, too, as his character inspires a young artist looking for a model to resemble the devil himself. The story offers several mismatched pairs: the bad doctor who maims Blizzard and his more idealistic protégé; the woman secret service agent gone bad and the idealistic woman artist who resists Blizzard's allure; and the criminal Blizzard and the reformed man, who is ironically cured of his evil ways during an operation that was supposed to restore his legs. Tom Wiener, All Movie Guide

German director Paul Leni's second film for Universal, The Man Who Laughs, remains a stirring experience. Begun as yet another fantastic vehicle for Lon Chaney, the drama instead stars Conrad Veidt, who possessed the one quality that Chaney perhaps lacked: sex appeal. With Veidt in the role, it is not totally inconceivable that Olga Baclanova's duchess, never mind how decadent, could be attracted to Gwynplaine despite his hideous deformity. No one but Veidt could add realism to as thoroughly melodramatic a character as Victor Hugo's unfortunate Gwynplaine. Of course, the perpetual grin forced the actor to perform with his eyes only, and the result is never less than magnificent. When performing in front of the rowdy country fair crowds, Veidt's eyes fit his carved grin perfectly, but at other times they convey embarrassment over his disfigurement, tenderness toward Lea (Mary Philbin), and at all times an aching sadness. Legendarily wooden as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Mary Philbin is much better here and handles her blind scenes in a surprisingly realistic manner. Always the most democratic of silent femme fatales -- her victims coming from all walks of life -- Olga Baclanova, in only her second Hollywood film, lolls about in slinky black negligees, but she too is well-directed and less broad than under more lenient directors. Veering at all times to just this side of the maudlin, Paul Leni created an unforgettable universe filled with romance, wickedness, and heartache. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

Based on Frank Willard's 1922 play "that startled the world" (as Universal advertising put it), this original silent version of The Cat and the Canary became the standard by which all future haunted house comedy-thrillers would be measured. Beautifully restored and released on DVD in 1998, the film's enduring appeal is certainly not due to its silly reading-of-the-will melodramatics -- hoary even for 1927 -- but because of German director Paul Leni's flamboyant visual style and a wonderfully self-effacing sense of humor. Everything one expects to happen happens here, but Gilbert Warrenton's busy camera (decades ahead of its time), Charles D. Hall's impressive sets (some of which reappeared in Frankenstein four years later), and ripe acting from a well-chosen cast make The Cat and the Canary roaring good comedy-melodrama. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

German director Paul Leni's second film for Universal, The Man Who Laughs, remains a stirring experience. Begun as yet another fantastic vehicle for Lon Chaney, the drama instead stars Conrad Veidt, who possessed the one quality that Chaney perhaps lacked: ****** appeal. With Veidt in the role, it is not totally inconceivable that Olga Baclanova's duchess, never mind how decadent, could be attracted to Gwynplaine despite his hideous deformity. No one but Veidt could add realism to as thoroughly melodramatic a character as Victor Hugo's unfortunate Gwynplaine. Of course, the perpetual grin forced the actor to perform with his eyes only, and the result is never less than magnificent. When performing in front of the rowdy country fair crowds, Veidt's eyes fit his carved grin perfectly, but at other times they convey embarrassment over his disfigurement, tenderness toward Lea (Mary Philbin), and at all times an aching sadness. Legendarily wooden as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Mary Philbin is much better here and handles her blind scenes in a surprisingly realistic manner. Always the most democratic of silent femme fatales -- her victims coming from all walks of life -- Olga Baclanova, in only her second Hollywood film, lolls about in slinky black negligees, but she too is well-directed and less broad than under more lenient directors. Veering at all times to just this side of the maudlin, Paul Leni created an unforgettable universe filled with romance, wickedness, and heartache. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide